Google has scanned some
7,000,000 books since 2004 as part of the
project, mostly from both publicly and privately supported libraries,
but from book publishers and individual authors as well. Some of the
books in the public domain (frustratingly not all, by any means) have
been made fully viewable and readable on the Google Book Search site
and via a downloadable PDF document. Books under copyright can be
searched and viewed in "Snippet View" which shows very limited portions
of the text. Books publishers do not want seen at Google have
bibliographic entries, and links to purchase them, but cannot be
viewed. Now Google, inexplicably--unless you want to believe they have
a vested interested in putting pressure on Amazon--has entered into a
closed sharing arrangement with Sony via the ePub ebook format. It
appears to be "open," and, indeed, ePub is an open format, easily
convertible to mobi format, which can be read on the Amazon Kindle.
But there is a catch.
"We have focused our
efforts on offering an open platform and making it
easy to find as much content as possible, and our
partnership with Google is another step in that
direction," said Steve Haber, president of the
digital reading business division of Sony
Unfortunately, this is not true.
The only way to read the books on Sony's platform is
within their proprietary desktop reader, or on their
hardware device, which competes head to head with the Kindle. Their commitment to openness
ends at their doorstep, and they do not make the
files in the open ePub format available for
conversion to the Kindle, nor does Google, who
should, if they are really committed to openness.
"Jeffrey P. Bezos,
Amazon's chief executive, has said that works in the
public domain, like those Google is making available
to Sony, are easy to get since there are no
copyrights attached" (NY
is partly true. Many are. Some aren't so easy to find in a format
that can be loaded on the Kindle. But in either case, there is a
larger social problem here. Google, using their influence to shape the
eBook commercial market through strategic corporate alliances based on
content ultimately provided via public funds, begs the question why
can't ALL of the public, regardless of the reading device, have easy
access to these titles in a format that can be easily imported to an
eReader? Google might respond that the public does, via the PDF format
that is freely downloadable, but the PDF format does not port smoothly
to the Kindle. It ports, but not with the same properties normal
ebooks have, like font sizing and reflow. It is a case of "open" not
actually meaning "open."
I don't mean to be overly critical of Google. Their Book Search project is a marvel and a true public good. So why make it easy for only a portion of the public to fully enjoy it at this point? Let's hope that Google does the right thing, rather than trying to influence the ebook reader market or put pressure on Amazon to come to an agreement with them, and make their ePub formats freely downloadable, as Project Gutenberg does.